They were discussing possible improvements to the Olimpico and the tallest commented how much he'd love to get to go and tour the changing rooms and backroom areas. 'Oh yeah?' said the blond kid in the full Italy replica tracksuit, trying to achieve nonchalance. 'I did that a few years ago.' His two mates stared at him. 'How?' 'Oh,' he shrugged, 'I got shown round by the Irriducibili.'
Uproar. Macché! sei de' 'a lazio?? [what are you, a lazio fan?] they shouted and leapt on him. A typical teenage male scuffle ensued and your correspondant had to back away to avoid flailing limbs. When calm was restored, they returned to the assault verbally. E allora? Sto storia de' Irriducibili? Blondie raised his arms to fend off any new attack and explained 'My cousin, my cousin on my mum's side. He's in the Irriducibili, I went along with him. It was Lazio-Inter, the game of the lost Scudetto.' Ah yes, that famous occasion in 2002 when Inter just needed to win at Lazio on the last day of the season to win their first scudetto in over a decade... inevitably they lost 4-2 and Juve took the title. So? 'Yeah they just took us in and we went round the dressing rooms and stuff and up into the press boxes and the offices.' 'Did you see in the Roma dressing room?' 'Nah they weren't interested in that were they...' His mates stare at him for a bit. 'That's shit,' said the taller one. 'Yeah what a shit story,' concluded the other, and they both proceeded to whack him affectionately over the head again.
Anyway today by chance I stumbled across a Lazio merchandise shop, 5 minutes from my house. As is well known, former club president Sergio Cragnotti (misguidedly) handed over control of merchandising to the Irriducibili, and they promptly started to make an absolute packet, depriving the club of a major source of income. Claudio Lotito has been wrenching that power -and others - back from the ultras, earning himself a great deal of unpopularity in the process. But the situation of Lazio shops remains... idiosyncratic.
I wandered into the shop, which was empty apart from a solitary chap in his early 30s. Hi, I said vaguely, suddenly wondering what I was doing. He seemed keen to chat. We did the whole 'surely you're not Italian' routine.
Lazio type: Are you interested in football?
Spangles: (caught in quandary) er, yeah, I support, um, Arsenal.
[chat about English football a bit]
LT: So you know about Lazio?
SP: Oh yes, they're famous in the UK for
[listen to prolonged encomium of Gazza]
LT: So can I help you? Let me show you what we have in the store. Are you shopping for yourself?
SP: (improvising mendaciously) My boyfriend is a Chelsea fan and I know there's a connection between Chelsea and Lazio fans...
[luckily Chelsea Boy is a long long way away since not only is he not at all my boyfriend but he nurtures a healthy dislike for all things Lazio and despises the dunderhead elements of both supports who have built a friendship based on unpleasant political views]
LT: (enthusiastic and patronising) well done! you're quite right!
[listen to drivel about Chelsea Headhunters]
He shows me his wares: official clothing, replica tops and lots and lots of Irriducibili branded gear of all kinds, much of it featuring their cartoon bowler-hatted hooligan icon, Mr. Enrich. There's a brand new t-shirt proclaiming GRAZIE MANCHESTER with the names of their 7 scorers emblazoned on it and a caricature of a weeping Spalletti, accompanied by the Irriducibili logo. That, I think to myself, is seriously small-time.
SP: Is this all official merchandise?
LT: Yeah, official SS Lazio goods and also official Irriducibili products.
He posits them as perfectly equal. 'Official' ultras merchandise. No wonder other clubs' ultras call them ultra$. I had thought that club merchandising was fully back in its own hands, but clearly not. I make some excuse and leave, promising to return. There are lots more questions I'd like to ask him but all the blue-and-white was making me feel a bit dizzy, and I thought it was time to get out. Discretion is the better part of valour, after all.